DARKE COUNTY — People can fall prey to burglary and other crimes at any time of year, including during the winter months.
“Generally, I don’t think time of year is a motivator for crimes. I think it’s just opportunity,” Ansonia Police Chief Frank Shapiro said. “The only time you have a pattern is when a group is out there committing several burglaries, and of course that will drive the statistics up for that time period.”
Chief Shapiro, and Det. Sgt. David Hawes of the Darke County Sheriff’s Department, stressed that while burglaries don’t seem to be any more common during the winter months, certain crimes, such as car theft, can be. They offered a number of tips for ways people can protect themselves, no matter the time of year.
Don’t leave your house or car unlocked
“A lot of people like to go out and start their car and let it run when it’s cold out, then they go back inside,” Shapiro said. “And of course that’s like an open invitation for someone to hop in and steal it. Usually those kinds of thefts are a short joy ride and then they leave the car somewhere, but it’s still annoying and aggravating for the person whose car has been stolen.”
Shapiro said an easy way to prevent this type of theft is to have a second set of keys handy, so that you can start the car, then lock it up safely and leave it running.
Similar bad habits can leave a person’s home vulnerable to burglary, according to Shapiro.
“Some insist on leaving their residence unlocked while they’re at home, then forget to lock up when they leave,” Shapiro said.
Invest in a heavy deadbolt
“A lot of people have just a conventional door lock, and those are pretty easy to defeat,” Shapiro said. “A deadbolt, on the other hand, you really have to kick it in.”
Not even deadbolts are infallible, however.
“A lot of people have deadbolts, but then they have a window in the door,” Shapiro said. “And all you have to do is knock out a little pane of glass in order to reach in and pull back the bolt.”
Get an alarm system
“Alarms are good: in your house, your car, any kind of alarm,” Shapiro said. “An alarm is going to notify you, or someone, that something’s going on that shouldn’t be.”
Many folks who live in rural counties, according to Shapiro, don’t feel the need to invest in alarms.
“Closer to Dayton, everybody has alarm systems,” Shapiro said. “They’re more fearful of unauthorized home entries. People feel safer out here.”
Shapiro said that while some professional burglars are able to work their way around an alarm system, few such criminals seem to reside in Darke County.
“The kind we have out here aren’t hardcore, dyed in the wool burglars,” Shapiro said. “And they usually get caught.”
Det. Sgt. Hawes suggested investing in security cameras for home security, as well.
“Video technology is pretty cheap these days, and you can hide the cameras easily,” Hawes said. “You get high-definition video and audio. I use them at my own house.”
Hawes also said that, even if you can’t afford an expensive security system, it doesn’t hurt to put an ADT or other security company sign in your yard.
“The crooks don’t know the difference,” Hawes said.
Ask your neighbors to keep a lookout
“People need to be aware of what’s going on around them,” Shapiro said. “Oftentimes we’re very lax about that. ‘See something, say something.’ I know it’s a cliche, but if you see someone suspicious hanging around, let us know, and we’ll come out and take a look at it.”
Shapiro said that burglars often keep track of when people are at work, or engaged in other activities that keep them away from their home for hours at a time. Asking your neighbors to give you, or the police, a call if they see anything suspicious can make a big difference.
“I was talking to a neighbor one time after a burglary, asking if he’d seen anything suspicious,” Shapiro said. “And he told me he’d seen a van backed up to his neighbor’s garage, and some guys loading stuff into it. I asked if he thought that was strange, and he said, ‘Yeah, but I didn’t want to end up calling the police out here for nothing and looking stupid.’”
Shapiro stressed that it’s important to call the police if you witness something like this.
“I’d rather have you be wrong than see something and not report it,” Shapiro said.
Hawes also stressed the importance of reporting suspicious activity in a timely manner.
“We get calls at 7 p.m. saying, ‘Well, this happened earlier this morning,’” Hawes said. “It may be too late for us to talk to the suspicous individuals and find out what’s going on by that time.”
Case your own house
“Case your own house,” Det. Sgt. Hawes suggested. “Look at it the way a burglar would. Ask yourself, ‘How would I get in? Where are my weaknesses?’” Hawes also suggested putting house lights on a timer, so that they sometimes come on even when homeowners are away, and not stashing extra keys in obvious places, such as under a potted plant by the door, etc.
On a lighter note: while winter weather doesn’t typically motivate crimes, according to Shapiro, it can sometimes lead to funny ways of solving them.
“There’d been a burglary in a plat with a bunch of houses,” Shapiro said. “And you could see the trail of footprints going from the side door of one house right over to the other. We knocked on the door and asked the guy what he’d been doing, and he said, ‘Nothing. Just sitting here watching television.’ So we said, ‘Really? Why don’t you show us what kind of shoes you’ve got on?’”
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